July 3rd, 10:45pm--Michelle Kelly is a young psychology graduate student and
lab assistant, working with a sleeping man at a lab facility. In a hurry to
catch her plane, just before leaving the lab she clumsily backs into his
medical gear, disturbing him. As she walks the darkened corridors of the
building, she hears a low growl. Changing her route, she exits the building and
crosses the parking lot. Outside, she hears the growl again and catches a
glimpse of a figure lurking in the shadows. She walks around the corner, down
the street, and around another corner…into the arms of a monstrously tall thing
covered in long strands of wet vegetation. It seizes her, lifts her
effortlessly, and crushes her.
Carl is en route to the dentist and catches a police radio broadcast requesting an ambulance to the Chez Voltaire restaurant. Carl heads there and discovers that the fancy restaurant’s chef, Honoré Piaget, has been murdered. As Carl begins snapping photos, he notices a police official removing samples of vegetable matter from the man’s body. Carl continues through the scene and encounters Captain Siska, who is talking to the owner. Captain Siska tells Carl he believes someone seeking revenge murdered Piaget. He has a suspect, and Carl can visit headquarters to learn more after the man is arraigned. Siska has little to say about the vegetable material, beyond suggesting it is a restaurant, and it might be salad. Carl is mystified by Siska’s very reasonable tone--this is the man reporters used to call “Mad Dog” Siska. Siska reveals that a year of group therapy has calmed him down, saved his marriage, and helped him avert a heart attack.
At police headquarters, Carl learns the suspect is Ramon Clemente, former pastry chef of Chez Voltaire. He hasn’t confessed but was drunk the previous evening and cannot remember where he was. He also has a motive: three days ago Piaget fired him. Clemente immediately tried to attack Piaget with a meat cleaver. He was stopped but witnesses overheard him say he would try again. Siska does not know how Clemente managed to crush Piaget’s chest, although Clark points out it looks like it had been “massaged by a bulldozer.”
Carl visits the police lab next and tells lab man Paco that kids have let the air out of his tires. When Paco leaves to investigate, Carl rifles the files and discovers the Latin name of the vegetation found on Piaget’s corpse. He also finds a cross-reference to the file on Michelle Kelly’s hit-and-run accident. With no easy way to find the common name of the plant, and eighteen Michelle Kellys to investigate, Carl decides to write up a story of Piaget’s murder and leave the rest of the work for tomorrow.
That night Bobby Ray Solange, aspiring musician and current street performer, finishes his day by visiting the basement of the Samuel DeChamplain apartments to unwind with a joint. No sooner has he lit up than something tall and plant-covered bursts through the door…
Carl works his way through nine Michelle Kellys before discovering the one who was murdered. Her landlady gives him the name of her former employer, Dr. Aaron Pollack, and Carl pays him a visit. Pollack is a sleep researcher and his current subject is a man who suffers from narcolepsy, a disorder whose sufferers are prone to falling asleep in the midst of any activity. Carl’s theory is that Michelle was murdered; but Pollack does not agree. As far as he knew, Michelle had no enemies--she was just an eager and bright (if clumsy) graduate student. Given her clumsiness, Pollack thinks it’s perfectly reasonable that she blundered in front of a speeding vehicle. Her clumsiness damaged equipment, spilled bedpans, and even almost awakened Pollack’s subject, nearly ruining the study.
Carl’s next clue is the Latin name of the plant found on Piaget’s body. He visits the Chicago Botanical Gardens and learns that the plant is Spanish Moss, a species native to the bayous of Louisiana. The hot, wet conditions in which it thrives do not exist in Chicago--the botanical gardens host the only specimen in a thousand miles.
Carl spends the rest of the day in a fruitless search for some connection between Kelly and Piaget. That evening he collects another lead--an informant tells him of Bobby Ray Solange’s murder and where it occurred. Carl forces the door and enters the darkened apartment basement, where the building super confronts him. Carl represents himself as a health department inspector and learns about the facts of Solange’s murder. The super relates how a mahogany door was smashed to splinters, and how (in his opinion) a gang must have attacked this kid and beat him to death. Then they dragged in vegetables and threw dirty water all over the floor. And all around the body were nickels and dimes and quarters –the daily take of a street musician.
Checking up street musicians, Carl gives Jean the Fiddler ten dollars but only learns that Solange was from Louisiana. But a nearby man tells Carl more in return for some extra money. The man is Pepe LaRue--actually Morris Shapiro of the Bronx--and he, too, knew Solange. Shapiro describes Solange as a nice guy who had an unpleasant roommate named Paul Langois. Langois had a nasty temper and Morris thinks he murdered Solange. While they’re talking Morris drops a step or two behind and then disappears in mid-conversation--only his beret and alms cup remain. Searching for Morris, Carl slips through a gap in the wooden fence. In the yard beyond he hears a low growling. Climbing up some stairs, Carl hears the noise again and snaps a couple of shots of something big and dark shambling across the yard.
After developing the pictures, Carl finds Tony rehearsing a speech for the Press Club. His topic: the difference between an unfettered press and the irresponsibility of yellow journalism and ballyhoo. Tony asks Carl to listen and comment but Carl’s constant distractions derail that effort. Carl tells Tony how the police very quietly released Clemente, their suspect in Piaget’s murder--quietly, because they haven’t got a suspect to replace him. But Carl does--the…whatever…that he photographed in the yard. The photograph is blurry but Carl believes it is Paul Langois, who he thinks murdered Morris Shapiro to shut him up. Tony isn’t interested; he wants to resume his speech. As he does, Carl ducks out through the fire door.
Carl visits Siska with his theory, but Siska is in a rage. Carl’s antics have flushed a year and a half of therapy down the drain--the old “Mad Dog” is back. Siska tells Carl that Morris Shapiro is one for the missing persons file, but he does reveal that the police have tracked Paul Langois. Unfortunately, Langois has an iron-clad alibi--he’s been asleep for over six weeks--he’s the man on whom Aaron Pollack is conducting sleep research.
Carl returns to Pollack’s lab and shines him on about a feature series on sleep research –Pollack doesn’t buy it and reveals the police have already confirmed Langois alibi. Pollack confirms that Langois has been asleep for more than six weeks and that he has not been allowed to dream during that time. The alarms go off; Pollack cannot explain what they mean--they “happen from time to time.” He summons a security guard to escort Carl out.
About this time, motorcycle Patrolman Warren Lundt is driving his beat on Dalstrom Avenue in the South Side when he sees something big and plant-covered duck around a corner. Racing towards the corner, Lundt is surprised when the thing jumps in front of him--he wrecks his bike against it and is knocked to the ground. The creature closes on him as he empties his service weapon into it without effect.
As Carl reviews his recorded interview with Shapiro, his attention is drawn to a particular comment about a bayou legend called Peremalfait. To learn more, Carl must find another Cajun, so he visits the recording studio where Jean the fiddler from earlier is cutting his demo. After several interruptions, Carl forces Jean to reveal that Peremalfait is the boogieman, a creature covered with rot and Spanish moss that has lived in the upper bayous since before the Cajuns came. Cajun mothers used the legend to keep their children in line by telling them if they didn’t behave, “Peremalfait would get them,” squeezing the life right out of them. The only way to destroy him is to stab him with a spear made from the wood of the bayou gum.
Since Lundt used to roust Langois, his death has sent Siska back to the university sleep lab where he demands that Pollack awaken the subject. Carl arrives and suggests that Langois is dreaming these people to death. Somehow his unconscious dream-repressed mind has brought Peremalfait to life. Carl backs up his claim by finding spots on the EEG where alarms occurred, pointing out that they coincide with the murders. Siska wants to talk to Langois and orders Pollack to awaken him. Pollack administers twice the usual dosage of methamphetamine but Langois remains asleep. When Carl suggests someone whittle a spear of bayou gum, Langois has another of his strange “attacks.” Carl believes that the Peremalfait “heard” him plotting its death, and that brought on the attack. Siska wonders if Langois is dying, Pollack says it’s too soon to say that--but then Langois dies.
Carl figures the matter is at an end--no more Langois, no more murders. He returns to the INS office to find the janitor mopping up a leak. Tony and a few friends return from the Press Club, where Tony’s speech was a huge success (he cut it short). Tony invites Carl to celebrate with him--Carl returns to his desk, wipes off some water, reaches into a desk drawer, and lets out a yell as he pulls out a mass of Spanish Moss. Drawn by the yell, Tony emerges from his office to ask what’s wrong and Carl realizes there’s no leak, that the mess is because Peremalfait has been in the office, looking for him. Peremalfait did not die with Langois but took on an independent life.
Fearing for his life, Carl returns to the Botanical Gardens and cuts a length of bayou gum from the exhibit there, then fashion a crude spear from it. Then he goes to the only place in Chicago where a swamp monster could live--the sewers. Spear and flashlight in hand, Carl pries open a manhole cover and descends into the fetid water below to begin his search. Very shortly, he hears it--faint and distant--a growl.
Above ground, a city employee has spotted the open manhole cover and closes it, just as Carl discovers Morris’ body on a ledge. That discovery sends a panicking Carl back up the ladder--just as a heavy machine drives to a stop atop the manhole cover. Carl has no choice but to find another exit. Carl spots a trail of vegetation in the water, coming from a mass that rises from the water. He has found Peremalfait, or it has found him. Carl panics and the monster shambles after him, losing him when he ducks under the foul water. Carl loses his bag with the spear and ducks down a side passage as the monster shambles off. Carl half dives, half falls out of the side passage and the noise draws the monster, which begins to chase him again. Carl finds his bag at the base of the ladder as Peremalfait draws closer. Carl manages to grab his crude spear and impale the monster, which groans for a moment then pitches backward into the water. Locating another ladder, Carl emerges from the sewers, aware that all evidence of the monster has washed away.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 12, 2016